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Anxieties, disputes, over St Loius underground fire burning near radioactive trash dump

 “I can say with some confidence that a flood, fire, earthquake, tornado, what have you, is going to move this radioactive material and other contaminants at the landfill in a way we cannot control.”

Flag-USAOfficials squabble as underground fire burns near radioactive waste dump in St. Louis area , LA Times, 21 Oct 15Matt Pearce  Contact Reporter A fire is smoldering beneath a landfill in a densely populated suburb of St. Louis — and it has been there for five years.

Underground landfill fires, or “smoldering events” as some officials call them, aren’t rare. What makes the fire at the landfill in Bridgeton, Mo., so unusual is that it’s less than a quarter of a mile from a large deposit of nuclear waste — with no barrier in its way.

Bridgeton landfill Missouri 14

The radioactive legacy of St. Louis’ role in the World War II atomic weapons program has unleashed Cold War-style nuclear paranoia in the area, as some residents debate what kind of gas masks to buy or whether to move away. Corporate, federal and state officials don’t agree on what kind of threat West Lake Landfill poses to residents, or even if it poses a threat at all. Various scientists and officials have presented clashing stories to the public about whether the underground fire is moving and what might happen if it reaches the nuclear waste.

 There might be a dangerous radioactive plume that forces residents to take shelter indoors or evacuate, St. Louis County emergency officials say.

Environmental Protection Agency officials counter that there might be a bit of radon gas, which may not even escape the landfill’s perimeter.

The Missouri attorney general’s office, which is suing the landfill’s owner, contends the fire is creeping closer to the radioactive materials.

The EPA, however, says the fire is staying put…..

Residents have been baffled to learn that radioactive waste exists at the dump, and even more puzzled that regulators have yet to finalize a plan to contain or remove the nuclear material — four decades after a company illegally dumped it. The EPA is still evaluating whether to place a cap on the site, or excavate the radioactive material, or both…..

Dawn Chapman, a resident and an activist has been trying to educate residents about the landfill. Her efforts gained a jolt last week when school districts mailed letters to parents describing how students might shelter in place if the fire reached the nuclear materials.

“There is a potential for radioactive fallout to be released in the smoke plume and spread throughout the region,” St. Louis County officials warned in an emergency response plan, which was drawn up in October 2014 to “save lives in the event of a catastrophic event at the West Lake Landfill.”……

A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, released Friday, warned that disturbing the surface of the landfill could release radium-226, radon-222 and radium-228 into the air and put landfill workers, in particular, at risk.

Radon is a leading cause of lung cancer, and radium can increase the risk of bone, liver and breast cancer, according to the health agency.

In the past, releases of radon at the landfill have sometimes exceeded regulatory limits for safety “by as much as 10 to 25 times at individual surface test locations,” the agency said in its report…….

Even if the underground fire eventually burns out without any problems, the radioactive dump could cause trouble, according to Ed Smith, the safe-energy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

“Either the government puts together a plan for the removal of the radioactive material in a way that is done as safely as possible,” Smith said, “or at some point in the future, I can say with some confidence that a flood, fire, earthquake, tornado, what have you, is going to move this radioactive material and other contaminants at the landfill in a way we cannot control.”


October 23, 2015 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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